I recently had the good fortune of attending the book launch for Andrew Burke’s Hinterland Remixed: Media, Memory, and the Canadian 1970s, a deep dive into the true north’s televisual archive and collective memory that includes considerations of the Hinterland Who’s Who vignettes, Michael Snow’s La Région centrale (1971), and SCTV. Professor Burke’s discussion and accompanying presentation diverted into a number of unexpected areas – the L’Atelier national du Manitoba film and art project, Kern-Hill Furniture Co-op commercials, electronic musicians Boards of Canada, the With Glowing Hearts short film (Ted Remerowski, 1979) – however two contemporary works stood out: Caroline Monnet’s Mobilize (2015) and Brett Bell’s Sign-off (2011).
Caroline Monnet, a Canadian artist of French and Algonquin heritages, obtained access to more that 700 films from the National Film Board of Canada to create Mobilize, an intense and passionate portrait of Canada’s indigenous people. With footage from the rural north and urban south, from traditional crafts to modern industry, Monnet captures the dynamism of the indigenous Canadian experience and, with the feverish score of Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq, provides a kind of sizzle reel made up of what the filmmaker calls “images of indigenous people kicking ass on screen.” MMC! fans may recognize scenes from Don Owen’s High Steel (1966)! Brett Bell’s Sign-off presents an absurdly nightmarish take on With Glowing Hearts and the anachronism of the television station sign-off culminating the day’s news and entertainment with a collage of landscapes and symbols set against the patriotism of the national anthem. Bell, born and based in Regina, Saskatchewan, creates something wonderfully weird and distinctly Canadian in Sign-off and for that MMC!’s heart does glow.
An inspiration to the Nelvana animation studio’s first feature, Rock & Rule (Clive A. Smith, 1983), The Devil and Daniel Mouse (Clive A. Smith, 1978) was the Canadian animator’s second television special. Following 1977’s A Cosmic Christmas (Clive A. Smith, 1977), this Halloween program takes its inspiration from Stephen Vincent Benét’s classic short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and mines Canadian artistic anxieties over American cultural imperialism and selling out. Struggling folk duo Jan and Daniel Mouse are fired from their last gig and Jan sells her soul to the demonic record producer B.L. Zebub, transforming her into the hit sensation Funky Jan. Success is bittersweet for Jan as she misses Daniel but when B.L. claims his payment under the contract, it’s Daniel who stands up for her in a trial of the damned that culminates in a musical final statement that carries the day. The short features some solid tracks by John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful and singer-songwriter Valerie Carter, as well as some stunning animation for the infernal B.L. Zebub.
Those looking for more on The Devil and Daniel Mouse, Rock & Rule, and the failed early efforts of Nelvana to achieve its own commercial and artistic independence should consult Keir-La Janisse’s excellent essay “A Song from the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: The Fear of Selling Out in Nelvana’s The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Rock and Rule” in Gina Freitag and André Loiselle’s The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Our Friends in the North.
Based on Peter Flannery’s 1982 stage-play, this award-winning BBC mini-series charts the lives of four friends from Newcastle over four decades – Nicky, a radical socialist preoccupied with the class struggle; Tosker, a cocky young man with dreams of celebrity and success; Mary, who struggles with the pressures of marriage and motherhood while pursuing her own professional ambitions; and Geordie, a troubled young man who flees his hometown for London. Over its nine episodes, Our Friends in the North traces the fortunes of an ever-changing England through the break-out performances of Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong, Gina McKee, and Daniel Craig. The Criterion Collection is proud to present this sprawling milestone in British drama for the first time ever in North America.
- New 4K digital restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Interview with Christopher Eccleston and Gina McKee
- Retrospective with Peter Flannery, producer Charlie Pattison, executive producer Michael Wearing, and directors Pedr James and Simon Cellan Jones
- New interviews with Christopher Eccleston, Gina McKee, Mark Strong, and Daniel Craig
- Visual essay by playwright Michael Eaton
- Complete soundtrack listing with chart history
- Precis and color stills of the original first episode
- TV spots
- PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by film scholar Marcus Hearn and television scholar Robin Nelson
Criterion Collection devotees should love The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders (2013), a SNL short film by Rhys Thomas. Originally called simply New Horror Trailer, Thomas’ film is a brilliant parody of Wes Anderson‘s distinctive aesthetic reset in the creepy home invasion horror subgenre. This tale of “handmade horror” is the quintessential “homemade bicycle made of antique tuba parts” (thank you Amy Poehler), being so faithful to Anderson’s kitschy style and tone that it might be true if it weren’t a joke. For those looking to unpack Anderson’s particular look and how it is reproduced, we highly recommend Alex Buono’s “How We Did It” blog post which provides exceptional insight on the short film’s making.
With weekend upon us, MMC! thought we might nose around some of the more unusual corners of the National Film Board of Canada. First up is Island Romance (Donald Ginseberg, 1957), a sweetly corny romance between a young man in Prince Edward Island and a girl visiting from Winnipeg. The short originally aired as an episode of the CBC television series Perspective, which replaced the popular On the Spot documentary series. Perspective aimed to blend documentary and fiction and was typically shown on Sunday afternoons, although the series was subject to frequent time slot changes. Perspective was a popular program, but was eventually replaced by the seminal Direct Cinema documentary series Candid Eye.
This merger of documentary and fiction makes Island Romance an unusual watch. Ginsberg’s presents an innocently saccharine tale of young love in the 1950s, but its quaintly chaste nature seems to take odd turn when local islander Danny (Daniel MacDonald) finds his efforts to woo the vacationing Jean (Iris Krangle) frustrated by her love for Canadian history and regional culture. Danny would like nothing better than a quiet moment with Jean, but seems in frequent competition with the tales of fishermen, literary landmarks like Green Gables, and historic events like Confederation and historical furniture like the chair of the country’s first Prime Minister. Viewers of Island Romance are not likely to expect a love triangle between Danny, Iris, and the Ministry of Tourism, but the film may be better for it by providing a little “WTF” in an otherwise picturesque story of G-rated summer lovin’. (And for those keeping track, Island Romance is peculiarly accurate in its details – Winnipeg’s newspaper is the Free Press and its most affluent neighbourhood is called Tuxedo.)
As per the NFB:
This short fictional film features the picturesque seaside landscape of Prince Edward Island as the setting for a summer romance between a girl from Winnipeg and a young fisherman from North Rustico, PEI. The young couple visits historic and scenic sites such as Government House in Charlottetown and Cavendish, of Green Gables fame. The film is a classic summertime romance and a nostalgic visit to the delightfully sun-soaked PEI of the past.
There is no better place to start this survey of the National Film Board of Canada than with The Log Driver’s Waltz (John Weldon, 1979), one of the Canada Vignettes and a ubiquitous short for Canadian television watchers in the 1980s and ’90s. The Canada Vignettes were a series of shorts that served as interstitial programming to Canadian TV networks and were designed to promote Canadian culture. The Log Driver’s Waltz has since become an indelible part of Canadian culture itself and its folk song has consequently become a commonly known tune for Canucks of a certain vintage.
As per the NFB:
This lighthearted, animated short is based on the song “The Log Driver’s Waltz” by Wade Hemsworth. Easily on the most often requested films in the NFB collection, Kate and Anna McGarrigle sing along to the tale of a young girl who loves to dance and chooses the marry a log driver over his more well-to-do competitor. Driving logs down the river has made the young man the best dancing partner to be found.